Excerpt from A City of Air

Hello, everyone, and a belated happy Thanksgiving. I spent a lovely day in my pajamas, watching the parade on tv and losing count of the times that boy bands came on pretending to sing while pretending to play instruments in the middle of Manhattan. Hope you all had an equally enjoyable day.

I thought I might take the time to let you know what I have planned as far as future scheduling is concerned. First, I am now working on no less than three novels at one time. I couldn’t really tell you why I decided to do things that way, except to say that my attention span has been shrinking with the passing years–ooh, look at the birds flying past the window–and after being blocked all summer, it seems better right now to take whatever comes to me in the moment.

My main project is finishing A City of Air, the third book in the trilogy A City by the Lake. I’m about thirty thousand words in, and people have been asking about it. I still think I can finish by Christmas if I apply myself. The added transitional chapters at the beginning of the book are done, so it’s just matter of pushing through the last half. I’ll check in here each week to let you know about my progress. There is a small excerpt posted below to give you a little taste. The airship does get off the ground, and even takes on passengers before it’s all over.

I have a secondary project involving a pastische of Sherlock Holmes, who I rediscovered this fall. It’s set in the year 1924, and is narrated by a young American woman named Enid Stone. Enid is a research assistant to a celebrated movie director who has been assigned the task of tracking down Mr. Holmes for a film. It’s more light-hearted than the trilogy, and should be great fun. I hope to complete it sometime in January.

My third work in progress (only an outline at the moment) came to me out of the blue a couple of weeks ago. It begins in central Africa during the 1870s and quickly moves to France eighteen years later. It will involve a young man’s quest for his father. I don’t have a title for it yet. Hopefully one will come to me as the story progresses. I’ve divided the story into five parts and thought I would experiment with serializing it here on this blog next spring.

In the meantime, check out the excerpt below from A City of Air. The airship has been liberated from its barn and is about to leave the ground for the first time. Enjoy.



The drivers of  the horse teams watched Gideon and waited for his signal. There were six teams in all, with four large draft horses in each. Gideon stared up at the great hulk of the steel behemoth above him. The building surrounding it had been carefully dismantled, and the panels that had formed the walls and roof lay on the ground.

It looked as if it had exploded from within.

Three large balloons of heavy gray silk bobbed gently in the breeze above the deck. A faint hissing noise indicated that they were still filling with gases. Gideon absently rubbed his thumb over the blue stone of his watch fob. It was the only visible sign of his anxiety. There was no sign of Abner yet, and Gideon was very aware that he was now the center of attention. People had been gathering since early morning to watch.

A murmur from the crowd drew his attention from the railing. He looked down to where the curving base of the airship rested on its wooden cradle. It had begun to rock gently. One of the horses snorted. The others shifted nervously. Gideon looked at them warily. He risked a glance at the spectators.

There were children in that crowd.

No one else seemed to notice. A sigh went up from the assembly, and Gideon turned back to the airship in time to see it lift gently from its resting place. A lanky figure appeared at the railing. Gideon’s skipped a beat before he realized it was Jameson, not Abner, who stood there. Abner must still be fiddling with the controls. Jameson looked over his shoulder for a moment, then waved his arm at Gideon. Gideon relayed the signal to the drivers, and they began to move forward cautiously.

The horses pulled against their harnesses with surprising ease. Both Abner and John Merriweather had claimed that the airship could just as easily have been guided without the aid of draft horses once it was off the ground. Abner, in fact, pointed out the number of times that both horses and cattle had been spooked by the balloons he had flown in over the years. But the secondary investors—who had become necessary after the first airship was destroyed—insisted on horses.

From the way that a couple of them were tossing their heads, Gideon wasn’t sure it was such a good idea. They looked nervous of the shadow that the great ship cast upon the ground. Gideon could empathize. Creatures on the ground tended to be naturally suspicious of something chasing them from above. He wasn’t sure that he trusted it, although he had promised to accompany Abner on the first official flight in three weeks’ time.

The drivers managed to hold fast to their teams until the turn into the broad meadow behind Abner’s farm, where a giant docking platform rose above the trampled grass. The shift in the angle of the sun after the rightward turn brought the ship’s shadow directly over the beasts’ heads.

Gideon watched with mounting anxiety as he saw the drivers struggle to maintain control. Then a big bay on the inside of the leading right-hand team suddenly reared in it traces, knocking into his neighbor, a chestnut with a white blaze.

The chestnut screamed in panic.

The awful sounds made by their frightened fellows—in combination with the strange shadow stalking them from above—quickly spooked the other teams. Soon enough, they were all united in trying to flee across open fields, spurred on by the monstrosity that bobbed along in their wake. Abner finally appeared, shouting something over the rail, but it was impossible to make out his words.

Gideon began to run after them. He had no idea what to do if by some miracle he actually caught up to them. He was dimly aware of shouts behind him. Abner disappeared again. The ship began to sink, bobbing wildly until its rudder was bouncing upon the ground, sending up sprays of grass and dirt in every direction. Gideon was forced to stop and throw his arms over his face to avoid the flying clods.

He saw the gray orbs of the balloons grow flabby. It looked like Abner was releasing their gases. At last, the full weight of the ship rested upon the ground. This did not, unfortunately, stop the forward motion of the horses. They dragged their burden another ten yards, leaving a broad, deep gouge slashing a dark path through the grass.

The airship creaked and, to Gideon’s horror, began to tilt to the left. He had a momentary vision of the thing rolling over and crushing both horses and drivers. But it stopped its sideways motion and came to rest at an angle in the soft dirt. Voices called out in the distance, and Gideon heard the sound of running feet coming toward him.

Abner appeared at the railing again, taking in the sight of the trembling, foam-flecked horses, and the deep trench left by the airship’s unscheduled landing.

He did not look pleased.

A hand suddenly gripped the railing, and Jameson appeared, peering over Abner’s shoulder. He looked shaken. Abner spotted Gideon on the ground below.

“I told them the horses were a bad idea,” he said, leaning his elbows on the  railing, “Maybe next time, someone will trust that I know what I’m talking about.”


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